Elizabeth Edwards, a best-selling author and the driving force behind husband John Edwards' political career before it was destroyed by his infidelity, has died of cancer. She was 61.
Elizabeth Edwards reportedly was not in any pain and was surrounded at home in North Carolina by family and friends, including her estranged husband, a former Democratic presidential candidate.
Her death came at 10:15 Tuesday morning, according to a family friend. The scene was described as "very peaceful."
The friend said, "Elizabeth did not want people to say she lost her battle with cancer. The battle was about living a good life and that she won."
Family friends provided NBC News with this statement from the Edwards family:
"Elizabeth Anania Edwards, mother, author, advocate, died today at her home in Chapel Hill, surrounded by her family.
"Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence but she remains the heart of this family.
"We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.
"On behalf of Elizabeth we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family.
"In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wade Edwards Foundation which benefits the Wade Edwards Learning Lab." The Edwards' son Wade died in a car accident at age 16 in 1996.
When news began to circulate that Elizabeth had taken a turn for the worse and her cancer had spread to her liver, her family announced Monday that her doctors had recommended against any additional treatment.
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"She found out last week and is at peace with where she is right now,” PEOPLE magazine’s Sandra Westfall told TODAY co-anchor Matt Lauer Tuesday before Elizabeth passed away. “She has a home full of relatives, which is how she always wanted it. They are telling stories, looking at old photos, and having as many laughs as tears.”
Jennifer Palmieri, a close friend who worked on political campaigns with Elizabeth, confirmed Wednesday on TODAY that the end had come quickly. “It was just a week ago that she found out that the treatment was no longer working,” Palmieri told Lauer. “It was very quick.”
John Edwards, from whom Elizabeth Edwards separated last year after he acknowledged fathering a child with a former aide to his unsuccessful vice presidential campaign, was with his wife and their three children: Cate, 28; Emma Claire, 12; and Jack, 10.
During an appearance on TODAY last year, Elizabeth Edwards said that while it was difficult not to be able to “lean” on the man she once called “my rock,” she thought it was important to not shut him out.
“For the children she’s put on a brave face, and kept that relationship intact. He’s at the house this week, helping with the children, getting takeout for the family that is visiting,” Westfall said.
Agreeing with Lauer that it must be a difficult time for the children, Westfall said Elizabeth Edwards has been preparing them for her death for some time.
“She, years ago, starting writing a ‘dying letter,’ she called it, so she would have the advice to pass on and always be there with a mother's wisdom when she couldn’t be there physically,” Westfall said.
Elizabeth Edwards wrote two best-selling books, "Resilience" and "Saving Graces," about her long battle with cancer and the scandal surrounding her husband.
Elizabeth Edwards became an advocate in her own right for health care reform and for the poor, two issues that had driven her husband, too. In that work, she lacked his clout but also his baggage.
"Our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind," President Barack Obama said.
Boosting husband's career
Edwards was calculating and ambitious in her own right, as well. A shrewd attorney, Edwards contributed mightily to her husband's rise in politics and acted conspicuously to prevent his fall.
In a riveting moment from the Democratic presidential primary campaign, the couple stood together in apparent harmony and loving mutual support in March 2007 to tell the country that her breast cancer, diagnosed in 2004, had returned, spread and could not be cured.
His campaign would press on, she said that day, because "it's important that the American people have the opportunity to have a president like him."
John Edwards quit the race after poor showings in the primaries that made Obama the Democratic nominee, and he and his wife retreated almost entirely from public life.
While she pleaded for privacy after revelations of his adultery, she also wrote a memoir — her second — that discussed how the affair repulsed her. She went on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to talk about it, but only on the condition that Winfrey not mention the woman by name.
"Nothing will be quite as I want it, but sometimes we eat the toast that is burned on one side anyway, don't we?" she wrote in the memoir "Resilience."
Edwards connected easily with the public and her battle with breast cancer resonated. She shared the most intimate details, writing and speaking about the pain of losing her hair and her efforts to reassure her young children about her future.
It was not her first experience publicly dealing with very private matters. She wrote in her 2006 memoir about the death of their 16-year-old son, Wade, in 1996 and the grief that consumed her for two years afterward. She spent hours at home watching the Weather Channel on mute and broke down in tears on the floor of a grocery store after seeing Cherry Coke, Wade's favorite soda.
"If in a restaurant, I felt Wade about to overtake me, I would go to the restroom" and take out his picture, she wrote. "If someone, anyone was there, I showed them the picture and told them about my boy. I know it made some people feel awkward — I could see it in their faces — so I was always sure to say how much it meant that they had listened."
Meeting John Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards was a Navy brat born in Jacksonville, Fla., and her experience attending school in Japan and living on military bases helped make her comfortable introducing herself to roomfuls of strangers.
She and John Edwards met in law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and married the weekend after they took the bar exam. He gave her an $11 wedding ring and borrowed money from his parents to pay for a brief honeymoon.
Even as John Edwards went on to make millions as one of the nation's most successful trial lawyers, they continued to celebrate anniversaries at Wendy's, where they had marked their first year of marriage.
Gary Pearce, who advised her husband's 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, remembered her as fragile and distant in the months before he officially joined the race as the couple grappled with the loss of their son.
But she became involved and outspoken about her husband's career once he bid for office.
"It was clear from the beginning that she was a full political partner with a lot of influence on him," Pearce said. "She was involved on a daily basis. She was in all the strategy sessions."
With the help of fertility treatments, Edwards gave birth to two more children, Emma Claire, now 12; and Jack. They joined Cate, nearly 20 years older than her new siblings. Edwards is also survived by a brother, Jay Anania, and sister, Nancy Anania.
Before her initial diagnosis with cancer, Edwards began writing a letter to her children with advice they could use after she died — such as how to choose a church or a spouse. The message became more poignant in her final years, brought home when Jack once asked who would be the grandmother to his children.
"We are not in denial," Edwards wrote in an updated version of her first memoir published in 2007. "I will die much sooner than I want to."
More on Elizabeth Edwards
On her Facebook page, Edwards had earlier posted the following message:
“You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.
“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.
“It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know.
“With love, Elizabeth.”
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